Local hospitals hurting from worst nursing shortage in years

Local News

LUBBOCK, Texas — Local hospitals are still grappling with one of the worst nursing shortages they said they’ve ever seen. As the number of COVID-19 cases go down, so too is the number of healthcare workers to take care of them.

Nurse recruiters with Covenant Health said they’re desperately looking to fill nursing and other critical healthcare positions right now, especially as hospitals prepare for a winter experts fear might bring a new wave of the virus.

“[It’s] a huge, massive shortage for nursing across the U.S. … and it’s presenting a challenge,” Melissa Watson, Recruiting Manager for Covenant Health, said.

Even before the pandemic, the nation faced a nursing shortage, and the coronavirus only exacerbated the problem.

“[The pandemic] just brought on a whole new struggle that I don’t think anyone in the U.S. was quite ready for,” Terri Morris, Nurse Recruiter for Covenant Health, said.

As the pandemic began, many baby boomer-aged nurses were retiring. Others chose to retire early out of concern their age left them more vulnerable to the virus.

“We’re seeing a huge number of folks in the work force nationwide retiring … Then boom, we got hit with COVID-19,” Watson said.

The exodus took a toll on the remaining nurses, many of whom had to work around the clock for more than a year to keep up with skyrocketing virus cases.

But there wasn’t just a physical strain with the long hours taking care of the influx of virus patients — there was also a mental strain. Nurses were taking care of patients for months only to have them die.

“They weren’t used to the sheer amount of loss we had this last year,” Morris said.

There’s also a shortage of other healthcare positions, especially respiratory therapists. On top of that, the recruiters said a number of nursing schools had fewer entrants this year because of the virtual learning forced by the pandemic.

Now, they said Covenant Health is actively recruiting nurses locally, nationally and even overseas to try to fill the gaps.

Still, both Morris and Watson said hospitals are worrying about what’s coming this winter. They fear a possible surge of virus patients without enough nurses to take care of them.

“How do we face another challenge, knowing that we are so burnt out, knowing that it has been such a struggle with staffing? How do we prepare for the future and for our next six months?” Watson said.

If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a nurse at Covenant Health, email Morris at terri.morris@stjoe.org or click here.

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